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Scent Enrichment for Cats Relieves Stress, Reduces Behavior Problems

by | Apr 6, 2021 | Cat Behavior & Care | 5 comments

Our cats are sensory creatures, but we often overlook their acute sense of smell. Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado reports that studies indicate cats can even sniff out their human’s stress--detecting fear, happy smells, and more. Scent enrichment for cats in their environment offers inexpensive, effective, and fun ways to keep your cats happy, stress-free, and healthy. It often reduces, eliminates, or prevents cat behavior problems.

cat scent

Scent rules cats.

Why Cat Scent Enrichment Matters

An outdoor cat can chase butterflies, climb and claw trees, munch grass and mark territory, stalk critters, and relax in the sun. And if Kitty prefers to be alone, she can chase off or run away from interlopers. Of course, outdoor cats also risk injury and exposure to disease, so most cat lovers in the United States keep pet cats indoors only.

But a restricted indoor lifestyle has negative consequences. Indoor cats must share territory and can’t get away from each other, which can lead to cat aggression or fearful cats. They exercise less and tend to put on unhealthy weight. Resource sharing strains the relationship even between friendly pets. Dr. Tony Buffington, an expert on cat enrichment, and a principle in the Indoor Pet Initiative, says stressed cats react with sickness behaviors that included hiding, vomiting, refusing to eat, and missing the litter box.

Enriching your cat’s environment gets couch potato cats up and moving, relieves boredom, and helps prevent potential health issues. But let’s look beyond the standard indoor cat tree and window-view bird feeder. Here are some great ways to engage your cat’s nose and increase the fun.

scent enrichment for cats

What YOU smell like means comfort and safety to your cat.

7 Ways to Enrich Cat Environment with Scent

Sometimes we forget that our cats’ noses are nearly as sensitive as canine friends. Don’t overlook scent-rich items that you can’t smell, because they may rock your cat’s world.

That said, it may inspire cats prone to urine marking to spray when they encounter an unfamiliar scent or detect strange cats outside their house. Use scent enrichment with caution in these cats. Try one at a time and mix up the smell-treats over days to weeks to discover what works best for your cats.

Karma loves fresh air, but coyote neighbors makes outdoor ops limited.

Crack Open Windows For Fresh Smells

Many cats never get a whiff of fresh air, and the smell offers intoxicating fun for them. Be careful they can’t escape, so raise the window only a couple of inches to allow the breeze inside.

Airborne smells change depending on the weather, so there’s always something new. My cat Karma loves to stand on his hind legs and press his nose to the opening, especially when it rains.

scent enrichment for cats

Cats love boxes. Offer smell-treats to make boxes even more appealing.

Logs, Sticks, Leaves For Cat Scenting Fun

Seasoned fireplace logs attract many cats and might also serve as a scratch post alternative. My cat enjoys a cedar log, for example, and that smells good to humans, too. For cats that love Christmas trimmings, save a branch from the tree.

Fill a box or paper bag or the cat’s tunnel playground with dry leaves for your cat to sniff and play with inside. Pinecones offer aroma, plus something fun to bat around the room. Some cats react to Tatarian honeysuckle branches as though to catnip. Creating a legal sniff-station in your home relieves meow demands from boredom. It also deters illegal lounging, like countertop cruising.

Sniff-Worthy Takeout Treats

Many cats beg for treats when they smell something yummy. Why not give them a sniff-treat once you’re finished and let them play with the empty paper takeout container?

Avoid offering plastic or styrofoam containers that pose suffocation or choking hazards. Cut handles on paper sacks to prevent them from getting caught around the cat’s neck–and having a “bag monster” chase and scare your kitty.

Some cats react to olives like catnip and roll on top of them in ecstasy. Yes, cats love meat, but offering them healthy table foods like a melon ball may surprise them, and you, with some sniffing fun.

Only offer cat-safe flowers, and be aware cats like to pluck petals–perhaps to unleash more scent.

Flower Power For Cat Scent Enrichment

Cat-safe plants and flowers delight many cats. Roses are edible, so treat your cat to a bouquet now and then (remove the thorns, of course!).

Sunflowers, zinnias, snapdragons, and Gerber daisies are safe, as well as oat grass or dandelion. Pluck a handful of greens from the yard and offer to your cat.

Cats love greens. Bring fresh grass inside, or grow some for indoor grazing.

Catnip, Herbal Love & More

Many herbs we use in cooking are safe and fun for sniffing cats, and some are feline favorites. Catnip, part of the mint family, affects many cats with a scent-induced kitty “high.” Silvervine has a similar effect. And valerian can energize cats. Fresh works best, but even the dried form may inspire kitty love.

Other safe sniffing herbs cats enjoy include dill, oregano, parsley, and rosemary. To make cleanup easy, sprinkle the herbs on the carpet or a towel for a sniff-fest. Refresh snubbed cat toys by dosing them with scent. Fill a plastic baggy with catnip or other strong-smelling herbs, drop in your cat’s favorite toy mice for a few days, and offer the smell-spiked toys.

scent enrichment for cats

Scented candles may appeal to some cats–be sure they’re safe and don’t light within reach!

Essential Oils—Be Cautious With Cats!

While popular for people, essential oils can be dangerous for cats as they metabolize them differently. Experts consider only a few safe for cats. Lavender, which has natural sedative properties, may help soothe an anxious cat. Other cat-safe options include copaiba, helichrysum, and frankincense. Before using essential oils around your cats, check with your holistic veterinarian for recommendations.

cat environmental enrichmentUsing scent in your cat’s environment helps reduce potential fear and stress in your home. That not only helps your cats’ relationship with other felines and his world, it also enriches the bond you share.

Do you use scent as a cat treat? What types of scents tickle your cat’s fancy? Do tell!

For more tips on enriching your cat’s environment refer to this webinar–it includes a free Quick Tips book, DOES MY CAT HATE ME?

This article first appeared in another form on the site.

Learn where to find professional pet behavior help in this post.

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!




  1. Jeanie Hendersen

    I have two boys, Doggle and Roger. I always let them go outside and play. There are a lot of trees in the area but they always end up climbing on the same tree almost every day. Not sure why, maybe a territorial thing or something. Thanks for sharing your ideas. I surely will bring some new scents for the cats.

  2. Yvonne

    Thanks for the Tips Amy!
    Our cats are fans of Catnip, hillarious moments when they have gotten some 🙂

    • Amy Shojai

      Catnip really offers fun for the cat and humans observing.😀Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  3. Franklin Steele

    Every week the topics that you write about are invaluable, but the pictures that you use are great, always support the topic, and are lots of fyn. Thank you.

    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks Frank. I always have fun picking out pictures to illustrate the topic.



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